Men’s Hockey: Cadets clinch NEHC regular season title with wild 7-5 victory over Skidmore

Men's Hockey goal celebration - Michael Weisse/Norwich University
Men's Hockey goal celebration - Michael Weisse/Norwich University

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University men's ice hockey team avenged its only loss of the season with a wild 7-5 victory over Skidmore College on Saturday afternoon at Kreitzberg Arena in New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) action. 

No. 2-nationally ranked Norwich (19-1-2, 14-1-0 NEHC) extended its unbeaten streak to 16 straight with the victory and clinched its 18th league regular season title in the last 19 seasons with the win. 

Senior forward William Pelletier (St. Jean Chrysostome, Quebec) led the Cadets' offense with a goal and three assists on Senior Night as NU broke a three-game winless skid vs. the Thoroughbreds dating back to last season. 

Special teams proved to be the name of the game as Norwich went 4-for-7 on the power play, while Skidmore (8-11-2, 7-6-1 NEHC) went 2-for-6. 

Norwich used a three-goal third period to turn a 5-4 second intermission deficit into a 7-5 victory. Pelletier notched two assists in the third period to help lead the comeback charge. 

He notched the assist on NU's fifth goal that tied the game when he found Alec Brandrup (Rochester, Minn.) with a tape-to-tape cross ice pass. Pelletier slid it from the near faceoff circle back to the top of the far faceoff circle and Brandrup let a wrist shot loose that beat Skidmore goalie Jack McDonald over the shoulder at the 3:21 mark. The goal was Brandrup's fourth of the season and the Cadets' third power play goal of the game. 

Sophomore defenseman Jake Erickson (Stillwater, Minn.) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at the 12:24 mark of the third period for his first goal in a Cadet uniform on the power play. Erickson wristed a shot through traffic from the left point that beat McDonald over the left shoulder off assists from Kevin Salvucci (Plymouth, Mass.) and Pelletier. 

Senior Paul Russell (Andover, Mass.) put the icing on the cake with an empty-net goal at the 18:18 mark off an assist from Tyler Piacentini (South Weymouth, Mass.). Russell made a great play along the boards to spring Piacentini into open ice from the NU defensive zone. Piacentini took a shot at the empty net but it was blocked by a Skidmore player. He didn't give up on the play though and chased the puck down in the corner, beating the Skidmore player and then finding Russell all alone in front of the empty net for the tap in goal. 

Skidmore opened the scoring at the 9:31 mark with a power play goal by Quincy Gregg. Anthony Bird and Matt Wolf notched assists on the goal. The Thoroughbreds upped the lead to 2-0 at the 16:44 mark with Marc Cibelli tapping home a rebound off an initial shot from the point by Chris Javens. NU starting goalie Braeden Ostepchuk (Lethbridge, Alberta) got a glove on the shot, but Cibelli was first to the rebound sitting to the left side of the net to give Skidmore a two-goal lead. Adam Moodie picked up the secondary assist. 

NU got one back at the 19:11 mark with a well-executed defensive faceoff zone play. Russell won the draw back to Brian Rowland (Waltham, Mass.). Rowland immediately sent an outlet pass up the right wing that Todd Jackson skated down and used his speed to get by a Skidmore defender. He skated in and roofed a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of McDonald to cut the lead to 2-1. 

Norwich kept the momentum up at the start of the second period with two goals in the first four minutes to take its first lead of the game at 3-2. Rowland scored on a slap shot from the blue line that hit off McDonald's chest but rolled up and over and just trickled over the line inside the post. Anthony Flaherty (South Boston, Mass) and Payton Baldillez (Arlington, Texas) picked up the assists.   

NU made it 3-2 with Flaherty's 10th goal of the season coming on a power play off an assist from Pelletier. The Cadets were the benefactors of some puck luck after a Skidmore clearing attempt deflected off Pelletier's skate and then the puck bounced right to the stick of Flaherty who slammed it into an open net before McDonald could get over. 

Skidmore tied the game back up at the 6:49 mark with another goal by Gregg off assists from Popp and Javens. Pelletier scored his 12th of the year at the 9:17 mark of the second period to give the Cadets a 4-3 lead on the power play off assists from Flaherty and Connor Evangelista (Wakefield, Mass.). 

Skidmore answered right back though with two more goals before the close of the second period with Anthony Bird scoring his 11th and Adam Moodie netting his fourth of the year at the 13:05 and 18:00 minute mark respectively. 

NU senior goalie Ty Reichenbach (Billings, Mont.) picked up the victory after making 14 saves on 15 shots coming in relief of Ostepchuk near the midway point of the second period. Reichenbach improved to 8-1-2 on the season and picked up his second win of the weekend. 

McDonald made 32 saves for Skidmore to drop to 3-7-2. 

Norwich closes out the regular season with three road games starting with a trip to UMass Boston and Babson next weekend. The Cadets face Babson on Friday at 7 p.m. and then UMass Boston on Saturday at 4 p.m. NU then takes on Saint Michael's on Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. to close the regular season. 

The Cadets have already clinched the No. 1 seed for the NEHC Tournament by virtue of the regular season title. NU will get a bye through the first round of the tournament since there are only seven teams in the league this year. The Cadets will then host a NEHC Tournament Semifinal game on Feb. 25 at Kreitzberg Arena.